9. The Comfort and Challenge Concerning the Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:1-11)
In chapter 4:13, the Apostle began with, “Now we do not want you to be uninformed.” He then proceeded to enlighten them on an important prophetic theme. In this chapter, we find that Paul had thoroughly taught the Thessalonians on the Day of the Lord. Quite clearly, God wants us to know and understand the prophetic themes and doctrines of Scripture. But why?
There are a number of biblical designs or purposes for the study and knowledge of the various prophetic themes of Scripture. As the last chapter shows, knowing prophecy is designed to comfort, encourage, and give hope where there would normally be no hope. It is also designed to remove ignorance so that Christians might be informed as a protection from erroneous ideas that might disturb them as we see in this passage and in 2 Thessalonians 2. A further blessing of knowing prophecy is that it also protects Christians from the counterfeit strategies of Satan and the world system that is under his control. As an example, one of the ancient counterfeits and one that will be a key note of his last day satanic strategies (a strategy already prominent today) is the belief in one world government which will be portrayed as a utopia and the final hope for mankind.
But the greatest purpose of the prophetic Word is the pursuit of holiness by His people. This is everywhere evident in one prophetic passage after another. Check all the passages dealing with the return of the Lord and you will find that, almost without exception, our Lord’s return is used as a basis for an exhortation to godliness. This includes themes like living as aliens in His service, living for heavenly treasure, and finding comfort in the midst of suffering and persecution through the assurance of Christ’s return. The present passage is no exception. Too often we get so bogged down in the debate over when the rapture will occur (pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib) that we tend to miss or ignore this emphasis.
An understanding of the prophetic Word should mark us out as a distinct people, just as cream is separated from milk. We are not of this world, just as the Savior is not. This should show in the moral quality of our lives, in our values, priorities, and pursuits. Paul uses several analogies in this passage to illustrate this: light versus darkness, sleep versus alertness, drunkenness versus soberness, and wrath versus deliverance. Prophecy, then, is not designed to satisfy our curiosity or an urge for the sensational. Its design, in view of what it means spiritually, is to motivate Christians to holy living.
Knowledge Versus Ignorance
5:1 Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. 5:2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night.
The words, “Now on the topic” is the translation of the Greek peri de which shows us Paul is turning to another subject, often in connection with answering questions or dealing with issues pertinent to the church he was writing to (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12; and here in 5:1). Though separated by a few words, peri de also occurs in 4:12. However, though a new subject is now taken up, it is not one completely unrelated to the previous chapter in that both deal with prophecy of future events with one following the other. The peri de does show that the subject of chapter 5 is different and to be distinguished from that of chapter 4:13f.
With the perplexity about the dead in Christ resolved, Paul turns to a new subject (cf. peri de, “now about”) yet not one completely distinct from the previous one. It is wrong to say that the two are so different as to be in contrast (Ryrie, “The Church and the Tribulation: A Review,” BS, April-June, 1974, p. 75; Ellicott, p. 67). But it is equally wrong to see this as a simple continuation of the same subject (W.C. Thomas, p. 7). The proper interpretation recognizes a shift in thought, but not without some connection with the foregoing (Walvoord, p. 81; Gundry, p. 105). The direct and affectionate address “brothers” marks the new discussion as an addition prompted by Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians’ situation. The nonarrival of the parousia had created another perplexity for them (Best, p. 203).128
A natural question arises here in the debate over when the rapture occurs. Walvoord writes,
… The fact that the rapture is mentioned first in chapter 4 before the day of the Lord is presented in chapter 5 is significant. The important subject was the rapture, including the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the translation of living believers. The rapture is not introduced as a phase of the day of the Lord and seems to be distinguished from it.129
Speaking about the significance of peri de and the natural chronological order of these two chapters, Walvoord continues:
Accordingly, it is clear that 1 Thessalonians 5 is not talking specifically about the rapture, but about another truth. The introduction of this material at this point, however, implies that it has some relationship to the preceding context. Accordingly, while it is not talking specifically about the rapture, it is dealing with the general subject of eschatology, of which the rapture is a part. Thus it would be a fair judgment that, to some extent, Paul is continuing his discussion by dealing with the broad program of endtime events as defined by the term “the day of the Lord.”130
The instruction given in this chapter begins with, “Now on the topic of the times and seasons” (NET Bible, but compare, “times and epochs” [NASB] and “times and dates” [NIV]), was a well known description of the end times and future periods of eschatological fulfillment. “Times and seasons” occurs three times in Scripture (Dan. 2:21; Acts 1:7, and here). On the subject of the rapture, they were ignorant and needed instruction, but not regarding the times and seasons (future periods of eschatological fulfillment). On this they needed no such instruction because of the previous teaching they had received.
The first word, “times” (chronos) is concerned more with the idea of elapsed time or duration of time. It could include the idea of particular dates when predictions would come to pass, or it could look at the various periods or ages of God’s program for the world. The latter word, “seasons” (kairos), stresses the quality or the characteristics of time, hence, the events, the nature of the time with its accompanied signs and characteristics like those expressed in Matthew 24, “the sun darkened,” or as expressed here, “as a thief in the night.”
“You have no need for anything to be written …” This comment with what is said in the next verse regarding the day of the Lord shows he had taught them carefully and thoroughly about these last time events including the day of the Lord which will usher in God’s judgments on earth.
Implication: If the rapture of the church was a part of the Day of the Lord, the instruction of 4:13f. would not have been needed for, since he had taught accurately about these things, they would already have been instructed on such an important event.
“For you yourselves know full well” refers to the features of the Day of the Lord. “Full well” is akribos. It means “accurately, precisely.” It was a word of precision and accuracy. Their previous learning had been adequate, definite, and specific regarding the Day of the Lord. Here is an important implication regarding the rapture or the subject of chapter 4:13f. The focus of attention in 5:1f. is “the Day of the Lord.” This is a subject of a great deal of biblical revelation and Paul must have gone into great detail explaining this to them (e.g., Isa. 13:9-11; Joel 2:28-32; Zeph. 1:14-18; 3:14-15).
In the Old Testament, the Day of the Lord is referred to by that phrase about 20 times, often with eschatological implications. In addition, a parallel term, “the last days,” occurs 14 times, always eschatological. Further, the phrase “in that day” occurs over a hundred times and is generally eschatological. In Isaiah 2:2, 11, 12 (KJV) the three phrases refer to the same eschatological time. So there was ample reason for Paul to say that his readers knew about the Day of the Lord from the Old Testament itself.
But concerning the rapture there is no Old Testament revelation. This omission from over a hundred passages seems hard to understand if the rapture is the first event of the Day of the Lord, as the posttrib view teaches. But if the rapture is a mystery, unrevealed in the Old Testament, and if it precedes the beginning of the Day of the Lord …, then it is not strange that Paul had to inform them about the rapture.131
According to the passages listed above, the Day of the Lord has multiple characteristics and if the rapture, as important as it is to the body of Christ, were a part of that day or was one of its key events, surely Paul would have included it in his previous instruction.
Facts About the Day of the Lord
1. It includes a time of great judgment and wrath on all the nations and on Israel (Isa. 2:12-21; 13:9-16; 34:1-8; Joel. 1:15-2:11, 28-32; 3:9-12; Amos 5:18-20; Obadiah 15-17; Zeph. 1:7-18).
2. It is associated with the overthrow of God’s enemies (Isa. 2:12).
3. It is God’s instrument of wrath to purge out the rebels from Israel and results in Israel’s return to the Lord (Ezek. 20:33-39).
4. While it begins with judgment to defeat the enemies of God, it ushers in a time of great blessing called the millennium in which Christ will reign with the church, the body of Christ (Zeph. 1:7-18; 3:14-17). “The significant truth revealed here is that the day of the Lord which first inflicts terrible judgments ends with an extended period of blessing on Israel, which will be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom. Based on Old Testament revelation, the day of the Lord is a time of judgment, culminating in the second coming of Christ, and followed by a time of special divine blessing to be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom.”132
5. The day of the Lord is also known by the terms “the time of Jacob’s distress” (Jer. 30:7) and “Daniel’s seventieth week” (Dan. 9:24-29). Many other students of prophecy refer to this time as the Tribulation (see Matt. 24:9, 21, 29; Mark 13:19, 24; Rev. 7:14). The chief passage on the many characteristics and events of this time is Revelation 6-19.
“As a thief in the night “ describes how this day will arrive. The primary point of the thief analogy is the element of surprise. A thief usually comes when people are asleep or gone. Dr. John Walvoord writes:
But this earthly wrath does not pertain to those in Christ (v. 9). Their meeting with Christ will be “in the air” and separate from God’s dealing with those on earth. The only way to hold that this meeting with Christ in the air is an imminent prospect is to see it as simultaneous with the beginning of the divine judgment against earth. Only if the rapture coincides with the beginning of the day of the Lord can both be imminent and the salvation of those in Christ coincide with the coming of wrath to the rest (vs. 9).133
Thomas adds to this thought and writes:
Were either the rapture or the day of the Lord to precede the other, one or the other would cease to be an imminent prospect to which the “thief in the night” and related expressions (1:10; 4:15, 17) are inappropriate. That both are any-moment possibilities is why Paul can talk about these two in successive paragraphs. This is how the Lord’s personal coming as well as the “day’s” coming can be compared to a thief (2 Pet. 3:4, 10; Rev. 3:3, 11; 16:15).134
“In the night” is an added detail to the picture. It points to the usual time for thievery, i.e., secretly, under the cover of darkness. As to the spiritual condition of the world, it will be asleep spiritually. Walvoord writes:
When we take the total picture of this passage into consideration, the reason for Paul’s introducing it becomes clearer. Although the events of the day of the Lord do not begin immediately after the rapture, the time period as such—following the symbolism of a day beginning at midnight—could easily be understood to begin with the rapture itself. The opening hours of the day of the Lord do not contain great events. Gradually the major events of the day of the Lord unfold, climaxing in the terrible judgments with which the great tribulation is brought to conclusion.
Taken as a whole, the pretribulational point of view gives sense and meaning to 1 Thessalonians 5 and explains why this is introduced after the rapture. In effect, Paul is saying that the time of the rapture cannot be determined any more than the time of the beginning of the day of the Lord, but this is of no concern to believers because our appointment is not the wrath of the day of the Lord, but rather the salvation which is ours in Christ.135
Expectancy Versus Surprise
5:3 Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape. 5:4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. 5:5 For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness.
First, note the pronouns “they” and “them” in verse 3. In contrast to 4:15 and 16, the Apostle did not include himself nor his readers with those who would see the Day of the Lord, but that is exactly what he did when describing the rapture in chapter 4. Why? Because now in chapter 5 these third person pronouns refer to those left behind after the rapture, that is, non-Christians. In their spiritual blindness and because they have believed the lies of the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:9-12), they will be expecting peace and safety, but instead sudden destruction will come upon them—but not on the church which will be gone.
Second, the world will be anticipating world peace through the united efforts of the nations, as has been the case for many years now, especially in Europe. For passages that deal with the issue of man’s search for peace and safety, see Daniel 9:27; Revelation 6:2; Ezekiel 38:11.
“Then sudden destruction …” The word for “destruction” (olethros, cf. 2 Thess. 1:9) does not mean annihilation, but the ruination of peace and security through the outpouring of God’s wrath on earth in the Day of the Lord. Included in this word is the utter and hopeless ruin, the loss of everything worthwhile causing the victims to despair of even life (cf. Rev. 6:14-17). The peace and safety undoubtedly includes the promises of the white horse rider of Revelation 6, the Antichrist. This is the prince of the people mentioned in Daniel 9:27. Likewise, this destruction includes the failure of that peace caused by the red horse rider (the scenario of Revelation 6:3) and perhaps also the wars and rumors of wars of Matthew 24.
“Like labor pains on a pregnant woman.” The analogy to a woman in labor includes at least four things:
1. The world is “pregnant,” ripe for what will happen because of its rejection of the Lord. God’s wrath, which has been building up throughout history, will suddenly break forth. The signs of its coming are discernible, even though the moment of its arrival is unpredictable.
2. This stresses the element of surprise: it will come suddenly, like the birth pains of a woman when the child is ready to be born.
3. The world can no more escape the coming wrath of God when it breaks out in the Day of the Lord, than a pregnant woman can escape labor pains. A strong expression is used in the Greek (a double negative, ou me) to stress that fleeing or seeking escape will be futile.
4. Like birth pains, it will be short-lived, but will steadily grow in intensity.
The world will be caught off guard and totally surprised because it will have rejected God’s revelation and listened to the delusions or lies of Satan and his world system. This is not new, however, for in Noah’s day God had warned of a coming flood, but only eight people believed and were delivered (1 Pet. 3:20). Lot also warned his family of the coming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but they too would not listen (Gen. 19:12-14). These historical incidents Jesus used136 as illustrations to warn a certain kind of people of the sudden coming destruction of the future Day of the Lord. He described these people by the term, “this generation.” It is important to note that “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 is qualitative and does not refer to a people of a particular period of history. Rather, it refers to a kind of people of any generation who are characterized as unbelieving and headed toward eschatological judgment. They are a people who ignore the revelation of God and proceed in their regular daily activities of eating, drinking, getting married, etc., without any concern for the possibility of coming judgment.137
“But you brothers and sisters” marks out a contrast and introduces an appeal to believers. Though believers in Christ will not be a part of this, it still has a very real and practical application. Note the contrast in verses 4-5 and the words “them” and “they” of verse 3 and “others” in verse 6.
What is Paul saying here?
1. His readers were not “in the dark” with regard to these things; they had been taught about them before. But Paul meant more than this.
2. The Thessalonians along with all believers have a new spiritual position and a whole new realm or sphere of life. They were not even in the same group who would be caught in this day. Being in Christ, their sphere of life was not in the darkness, but in the light (cf. Col. 1:13).
3. Instructed Christians will not be surprised by the coming of this day. Not just because they have been told it is coming, nor simply because it cannot take believers by surprise since they will by then be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:9), but because they are to be living differently from the “this generation” kind of people mentioned above. Christians are to be living as alien ambassadors and not as the worldling who seeks all the gusto he can from this life.
“Darkness” continues the figure of night mentioned in verse 2 and calls to mind the darkness versus light analogy of the Bible. Darkness stands for the realms of:
1. Error and ignorance versus truth and understanding—this is the intellectual aspect of the darkness/light analogy of Scripture. In other words, the world, because of its darkened understanding, is ignorant of this impending doom that even today stands imminently ready to strike.
2. Blindness versus sight—the operational element of this analogy. The world is spiritually blind, it cannot see the truth of Scripture and has believed the delusions of Satan (2 Thess. 2:9f.).
3. Wickedness or immoral living versus righteousness—the moral element of this analogy.
I can’t think of anything that better illustrates all three elements of the darkness/light analogy than the tremendous apathy we see today in our country over the behavior of our president. In their pursuit of the good life, acting like a “this generation” kind of people, a large number of people in this country (assuming the polls are correct and not skewed for political purposes) don’t care what our president has done so long as their own lifestyle is not affected and they can go on eating, drinking, and marrying, etc.
Verses 4-5 set forth the doctrinal principle and fact: Here Paul declares unequivocally that believers are not in that realm of darkness so that day could overtake them.
Verse 4. “But you” is very emphatic in the original text. Paul is contrasting the destiny of believers with that of unbelievers. The day (as a thief) can’t overtake them. Believers can’t be a part of such a time. Because of what they have in Christ, they can’t be subject to such a day.
Verse 5 gives the positive reason why. “For” introduces us to the reason for the statement of verse 4. “All” and “sons” are emphatic in the Greek text. “Sons of the light and sons of day” have a qualitative emphasis in the Greek text. Not simply the sons, but those characterized with all the blessings and privileges of sons. The coming of the Day of the Lord, and this is Paul’s subject, is a day of darkness, a night time kind of day. Actually, it is also a day of wrath and we as believers cannot be appointed to such a day because Christ bore God’s wrath for us. Thus, believers, by virtue of their new nature and position as children of light, as sons of the living God in Christ, can have no part in such a day. Compare also 1 Thess. 1:10.
Growing out of this assertion that believers will not participate in darkness is the promise of their non-participation in “the day” of the Lord. It will not overtake them by surprise—“like a thief” overtakes his victim. As v. 5 explains, their position in Christ guarantees their deliverance from this.138
Soberness Versus Drunkenness
5:6 So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober. 5:7 For those who sleep sleep at night and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 5:8 But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation.
With verses 6-8, Paul gives the practical application of this doctrine indicated by “so then.” In the Greek text, this is ara oun, a very strong way to point the reader to the application and consequence of what he has just said. Here Paul makes the believer’s position as sons of the light the basis for the following exhortation. Since we are not of night or darkness and not subject to such a day, let us not be asleep spiritually, but be watchful. Let us live in a manner that is consistent with our life and standing in Christ and the future glory we will share with Him.
“Sleep” is the Greek katheudo, a different word from the one used in chapter 4 for death. Katheudo refers to a state of spiritual insensitivity. In Ephesians 5:14, believers are enjoined to wake out of such a sleep that they might walk in the light of Christ in wisdom as wise and not foolish. Here in 1 Thessalonians 5, they are enjoined not to enter into it. In view of the context and the meaning of the text, a comparison of the words used for sleep here and in chapter 4 is in order.
- In chapter 4, the word for sleep, koimao, refers to a gentle, peaceful sleep and refers to physical death. It is a synonym for death and is in contrast with “those who are alive.”
- In chapter 5, katheudo looks at the opposite, a state of sleep which is restless and wild. It refers to spiritual indifference and to carnality. It implies immorality and a life that seeks to live devoid of a relationship with God. Katheudo is a synonym for spiritual lethargy or carnality and is in contrast with not physically being alive, but with being spiritually awake and in tune with the Lord.
“Stay alert” or “watch” is gregoreo which means “to be awake, watchful, alert.” Here it is used figuratively for being spiritually awake and alert. As a strong contrast to what precedes, the use of this word in this context with katheudo shows us clearly that katheudo refers to spiritual indifference and not physical death in this chapter. Gregoreo is never used as a synonym for being physically alive.
“Sober” is likewise a figurative term here and states the same idea, but under a different synonym, that of spiritual sobriety. This word brings out the need to be under the Spirit’s control (Eph. 5:18).
With the words of verse 7, “For those who sleep sleep at night and those who get drunk are drunk at night,” the Apostle reinforces the need for sober alertness by calling our attention to that which characterizes the unbelieving world. In the Greek text here, there is a certain emphasis on the nature of how the unbelieving world lives. This is so because of the repetition of the words “at night” and by the grammar used. “Night” in both cases is in the genitive case. Paul could have used the accusative or the dative case. If he had used the dative case with the noun “night,” he would have stressed the length of time, like all night long; if the dative case, the focus would have been on a particular point during the night. The use of the genitive case, however, stresses the kind of time, a nighttime kind of existence, an existence in the dark.
Paul, then, is clearly calling believers to stay spiritually awake. As Christians, we are never to be in a state of slumbering unwatchfulness or in frivolous activity. Instead we are to be spiritually awake, sober, and living in anticipation of the Lord’s imminent coming—and certainly not worried about being caught in the Day of the Lord.
With verse 8, the Apostle tells us how, since we are of the day, we can be alert, watchful, and sober or properly oriented to the Lord’s coming. Here again we have the Christian triad of faith, love, and hope as those fortifying qualities that prepare believers for effective living (see 1:3). These Thessalonian believers had demonstrated all three of these qualities, but we must all continue to maintain and even grow in faith, love and hope (confident expectation) if we are to live soberly in a world that is in darkness—drunk, disoriented to the truth of God.
With the mention of the breastplate and helmet, Paul turns to the metaphor of a soldier. This was one of his favorite illustrations of the Christian life (Rom. 13:12b; Eph. 6:10-18; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 2:3-4; 4:7a). In view of the fact Christians belong to the day, they must be prepared to live accordingly. Such requires living soberly like a soldier on duty.
… A Roman breastplate covered a soldier from his neck to his waist and protected most of his vital organs (cf. Eph. 6:14). That is what Christians’ faith and love do. Faith in God protects inwardly and love for people protects outwardly. These two graces cannot be separated; if one believes in God he will also love other people (cf. 1 Thes. 1:3; 3:5). These attitudes equip Christians to stand ready for the rapture. In addition, the hope of salvation guards their heads from attacks on their thinking. The salvation they look forward to is deliverance from the wrath to come when the Lord returns, as is clear from the context. It is not a wishful longing that someday they might be saved eternally. Such a thought is entirely foreign to the New Testament. Followers of Christ have a sure hope; they are not as others who have no hope.139
Salvation Versus Wrath
5:9 For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 5:10 He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.
The “for” of verse 9 is the Greek hoti, used here as a causal conjunction, “because, since, for.” It points us to the reason for following the above exhortations, especially that of verse 8. The reason is our guaranteed deliverance or why we won’t be overtaken as a thief by the Day of the Lord and why we should live soberly putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet, the hope of deliverance.
The reason is thus twofold, one negative and one positive. (1) Negatively, believers are not appointed to wrath. In the context, the wrath is the Day of the Lord. (2) Positively, all believers are appointed unto obtaining salvation from this awful day through the Lord Jesus. To emphasize this positive element, Paul used the Greek conjunction alla, a conjunction of strong contrast. The salvation here includes all that we have in Christ, but by context, the Apostle specifically had in mind deliverance from the wrath of the Day of the Lord by means of the rapture since both the rapture and this day are seen as imminent (cf. 4:13-18).
God’s intention for them is not the wrath that will come on the earth in the day of the Lord, but the full salvation that will be theirs when the Lord returns for them in the clouds. The wrath of God referred to here clearly refers to the Tribulation; the context makes this apparent. Deliverance from that wrath is God’s appointment for believers. This temporal salvation comes through the Lord Jesus Christ just as does eternal salvation.140
With verse 10, the Apostle points to the all-encompassing nature of our salvation in Christ and reiterates the principles of Romans 8:1 and John 5:24-25, that for the believer in Christ, there can be no judgment of God’s wrath because Christ has borne that judgment for us. Thus, the basis of our confidence is the Lord Jesus Christ because He is “the One who died for us.” The Greek text is very descriptive here calling our attention to a further fact that defines the reason for our deliverance. Paul used what grammarians call an adjectival participle which ascribes a special fact, quality, or characteristic to the noun or substantive it modifies, or it may even add a further defining fact. Here that substantive is our “Lord Jesus Christ” and the reason for our deliverance is that He is “the One who died for us.” The Apostle then calls our attention to the outcome of His death—“that whether we are alert or asleep, we shall live though Him.”
First, to what does “sleep” refer in this verse? Does it refer to death as in chapter 4 or to spiritual apathy as in 5:6-7? Some claim that “awake or sleep” is used metaphorically for whether one is physically alive or physically dead (cf. Luke. 17:34). This is possible, but certainly not plausible in view of the context. These words refer to spiritual carnality or apathy.
(1) Context: The immediate context favors this view because of vss. 6-7 and the call to be alert and sober. Remember, the Apostle has changed to a different subject (see again the use of peri de as discussed above).
(2) Syntax: Sleep is connected with being awake (gregoreo). In this context this clearly deals with spiritual alertness.
(3) Lexical: More importantly, while the word for sleep here, katheudo, is used of death in one passage in the gospels (Matt. 9:24), gregoreo, the word used for being alert or awake is never used metaphorically of physical life in the Greek Bible.141 The use of katheudo for physical death is rare. Normally, it is used of spiritual sleep. Since Paul used koimao for the death of believers in chapter 4, it is highly unlikely that if he meant that here, he would not substitute the metaphorical koimao for katheudo since that would leave no question.
(4) Application: Not only does this passage stress the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ, but this passage also becomes an argument against the partial rapture theory. Those who believe in a partial rapture believe that only those who are in fellowship and walking with the Lord will be raptured. All carnal Christians will have to go through the Tribulation. But this passage affirms that, because of the finished work of the Lord Jesus, all believers, whether they are alert or spiritually asleep, will be delivered from the coming wrath should they be living when rapture occurs.
Verse 11. “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.” With verse 11 we come to the final application of this section. “Therefore” is dio, a strong coordinating or inferential conjunction. It points us to the consequence of the preceding truth with two responsibilities given:
(1) We are to comfort one another. This is one of the many “one another” passages of Scripture. This exhortation along with the many other “one another” exhortations call on us to be involved in the lives of one another in order to give comfort and encouragement. “Comfort” is the Greek parakaleo which includes the concept of giving aid, of coming alongside to help, or to enable as needed. The noun form is used of the Holy Spirit who is called our Comforter or Enabler.
(2) We are to “build one another up.” This is the Greek oikodomeo, “to build up, erect, restore.” Here it is used metaphorically of spiritual edification or restoration as might be needed in the life of each individual believer. It refers to an intellectual grasp of the truth discussed so that it fortifies the heart and mind. But toward what are we to build up one another? Toward living for the Lord in the sufficiency of His glorious life. We are to help one another stay sober and spiritually awake in view of who we are as Christians and in view of our glorious inheritance. This means we are to help other believers find their strength in the Savior rather than in the details of life or from the things of this world which is passing away and headed for sure destruction. We are not to be a “this generation” kind of people who live as worldlings or earthdwellers, as those who make no plans for the future or are unconcerned about spiritual matters.
His own encouragement and edification in this letter were not enough. This new instruction needed constant repetition and reemphasis. It was to be added to the body of truth they already had received, and as they were encouraging each other in their meetings and in private conversations about other revealed truth they were to include this great truth as well. Believers do not need to be hearing something new all the time, but they often do need to remind themselves of what they already know so that they do not forget it. This verse gives some insight into the meetings of the early church. They included opportunity for mutual edification among the believers. Mutual encouragement and edification are still needed in every local church. And encouragement and edification with reference to their hope in Christ’s return is especially needed.142
As mentioned previously, the purpose of the prophetic portions of Scripture must never be reduced to the realm of simply satisfying one’s curiosity nor should it become a source of tension or purely academic argument. As with one prophetic passage after another, the design of the truth of this portion of Scripture is practical. It is designed both to comfort and to challenge us to godly living. The preceding chapter, 4:13-18, was primarily aimed at giving comfort in the face of death, while this chapter, 5:1-11 is designed to comfort and to challenge. It comforts us in that, should the Day of the Lord come in our lifetime, a day that begins with great wrath, we will not face that wrath but will be delivered by the blessed hope mentioned in the preceding chapter. It also challenges us to live as people of the day or the light. In other words, the element of comfort must not lull us into apathy where we live for the temporal and cheap experiences of the world. Rather, in view of all that will follow the parousia of the Lord we should live accordingly. The great events that follow include the Judgment Seat or Bema of Christ when we will stand before Him to receive rewards or their loss. They also include our returning with Him in glory at the end of the Tribulation “when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed—and you did in fact believe our testimony” (2 Thess. 1:10).
Having this outlook means that we will live soberly and alertly as people of the day (vss. 6-8).
The soberminded believer has a calm, sane outlook on life. He is not complacent, but neither is he frustrated and afraid. He hears tragic news of the day, yet he does not lose heart. He experiences the difficulties of life, but he does not give up. He knows his future is secure in God’s hands, so he lives each day creatively, calmly, and obediently. Outlook determines outcome; and when your outlook is the uplook, then your outcome is secure.143
The position presented in this commentary is that of the pretribulation viewpoint of the rapture of the church. I recognize that many other godly students of the Word disagree with this and, while I will not take the time to set forth the reasons for this conviction, I can suggest a number of excellent books that do. Some of these are: The Rapture Question Revised, and The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation, both by John F. Walvoord, Zondervan; Come Quickly Lord Jesus, by Charles C. Ryrie, Harvest House Publishing; The Truth About the Rapture, Pocket Prophecy Series, by Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy; Rapture Under Attack, by Tim LaHaye, Multnomah Publishers; Snatched Before the Storm? A Case for Pretribulationism, by Richard L. Mayhue, BMH Books.
129 John F. Walvoord, Vital Prophetic Issues, Examining Promises and Problems in Eschatology, Roy B. Zuck, General Editor, Vol. 6, Kregel, Grand Rapids, 1995, p. 217. This article can also be found in “Bibliotheca Sacra,” V134, # 533, Jan. 77.
137 For an excellent treatment of the difficult term, “this generation,” see “‘This Generation’ in Matthew 24:34, A Literary Critical Perspective,” in The Journal of the Evangelical Society, 38:3, Sept. 1995, pp. 369-385.
Related Topics: Comfort